Major Istanbul hub İstiklal Avenue faces spree of shop closures
Burak Coşan - ISTANBUL
Istanbul’s culture and tourism hub, İstiklal Avenue, has been experiencing scores of store closures, with owners citing financial hardships and falling revenues stemming from larger problems which have impacted the popular street, including terror attacks and a series of protests.
The recent closures of shops on the once busy street in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district began in the immediate aftermath of the March 19 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) suicide bomb attack on the street which killed five foreign tourists. The weekend following the attack saw record lows in pedestrian traffic on the street, with revenues at its restaurants and cafes seeing drops of up to 50 percent.
However the chain of events that led to the streets’ near abandonment, which has reached eerie levels according to locals. The Beyoğlu Municipality’s 2011 operations to remove chairs and tables in the popular Asmalımescit part of the street also conrtibuted to the drop, locals say. The decision also turned into a massive exchange of blame between venue owners and the municipality.
The Asmalımescit decision was, however, overshadowed by the 2013 Gezi Park protests and this year’s ISIL terror attack, which massively reduced the area’s popularity. The situation has worsened with further attacks in Turkey and Istanbul’s other tourist hubs, such as June 28 Istanbul Atatürk Airport attack.
Big brands moving
Among the brands that have abandoned the street are cafe-restaurant chains like The House Cafe, Pizza Hut, Starbucks; textile brands like Columbia and Camper; electronics shops like Teknosa and Mediamarkt; and banks like İş Bankası.
“Foot traffic has decreased greatly. In the past, young people used to choose İstiklal Avenue for entertainment but now they do not prefer [it]. Terror incidents have also caused a decrease in the number of tourists,” said a local merchant.
Mayor: Broad problem
Beyoğlu Mayor Ahmet Misbah Demircan said the problem was not only about İstiklal and the situation was temporary.
“Right now, the problem is not only in İstiklal Avenue. Due to a decrease in the number of tourists, there is a fall in revenues. A great deal of İstiklal merchants’ revenues came from tourists. But when you look at it, Beyoğlu has a bed capacity of 45,000 and some 80 percent of this is empty,” the mayor said.